Archive for July 2007

Punching out for a bit

July 27, 2007


The last seven months seemed to go by in about seven minutes. As we all know, the industry has boiled right up.

So I will greatly enjoy the next three weeks, which hopefully feel like three months, off the job and relaxing in places like the Crown Saloon in Belfast.

If you are also shutting down for a while, enjoy! Something tells me the rest of the year will be a blur, as well.


Using in-store TV for brand identity not a great approach

July 25, 2007

The Hub magazine is a bit of an ideas exchange and forum for people in the marketing community. There’s a new piece in it this month that looks at how best to establish brand identity in a retail setting, and its basis was a survey of professional marketers.

The result: packaging design is tops, and stuff like in-store TV and in-store radio were down near the bottom.


Before you get the razor blade out, consider that the results only make sense. Using big LCD screens, or even shelf-edge screens, to establish brand identity doesn’t make a whole pile of sense in visually busy retail settings and on screens that may have all kinds of other messages on them, as well.

The article’s author, retail branding consultant Jason Press, suggests: “The world would indeed be a happier place if everybody simplified their packages and there were fewer messages being thrown at shoppers at retail.”

I’m no marketing guru, but it strikes me that where digital screens in retail works for brands is in driving impulse and  awareness, and in reinforcing the value.

I remember talking to some Kodak guys, in the waning days of film, about using digital screens to drive sales in chain drug stores. They said Kodak had this great creative out in broadcast and print, stuff that made people feel using Kodak was something special. But when consumers went in stores they forgot all that and bought on price. But by having screens reinforcing that key messaging, they felt buyers would modify their buying behavior.

Digital signage has its role in retail, but it can’t be the answer to all of a retailer’s challenges. Though Lord knows there are people out there selling it as such. 

And now a history lesson

July 24, 2007

A couple of people have pointed me today at a piece in MediaPost about NBC‘s new venture into in-store TV sales.

Guys like Rob Gorrie and Bill Gerba have already commented on the merits and prospects of that (I’ll say only that it will be a big wet fart unless they have truly dedicated, laser-focused sales people).

What I found interest in Joe Mandese’s piece was the history lesson he provided.

… NBC’s deal with Premier Retail Networks isn’t the first time it’s ruffled its feathers in the retail media space. Anyone remember NBC On-Site? I do. I was a young reporter at Advertising Age when I wrote what was likely the longest media venture profile story every published by the venerable trade magazine. That venture, a partnership with grocery giant Flemming Industries, cost NBC and parent General Electric millions in start-up costs before it eventually pulled the plug, amid a broader shake-out in what were then called “place-based” media networks.

NBC was not alone. Turner Broadcasting sunk millions into the Checkout Channel and even dabbled with a McDonald’s TV network, before it pulled those plugs. This was during the pre-Internet, early 1990s, when big TV outlets were looking to expand their shelf space, and didn’t have the Web to contend with. Physical space seemed like a good idea for extending their franchise. Pioneering Whittle Communications had already paved the way with networks on college campuses, in doctors’ offices and even in public schools. In fact, Whittle’s Channel One is one of the few survivors of the first wave of place-based television, though it has since changed hands from Whittle to Primedia and now to Alloy Media. The only other significant out-of-home television network from that period to actually make a go of it is CNN’s Airport Network.

Among the problems that beset those early incarnations were some important proximity-based issues, and high capital costs. The emergence of low-cost digital screens, wi-fi and broadband access has mitigated the cost part of the equation. Proximity issue can still be an important factor. Both NBC On-Site and the Checkout Channel ultimately checked out, partly because they could not figure the whole silent TV thing, when it turned out that both patrons and retail workers weren’t especially fond of the same audio tracks being looped over and over again. It was so irritating, in fact, that many stores simply pulled the plug.

I have been around long enough to remember all that stuff, but I suspect there are a lot of people in this space that think the whole thing just started when companies like Elevator New Network, PRN and Accent Health started sticking screens in places. What we’re doing isn’t particularly revolutionary. Evolutionary is alot more appropriate.

Teenagers actually notice digital signs in malls

July 24, 2007

It’s always heartening to see positive research results from digital signage installs out in the field.

First, good results help us all. Second, somebody actually saw the greater good of letting others in on the results (still rare, it seems).

In this case, the mall ad company AdSpace has released some results of measurement done with Nielsen this spring.

From AdAge:

The Out of Home Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB), an organization of digital outdoor companies, is currently working with its agency partners to develop a solid metric for later this year.

But AdSpace, a mall advertising company currently in 75 upscale malls throughout the country, got a jump on its fellow OVAB members in April when it partnered with Nielsen on a study that would provide more detailed ad-engagement data. The study aims to show how many people are watching the ads, and for how long.

For AdSpace, it turned out to be 47% of all mall traffic, a good portion of which is comprised of its target teen audience. Of those 47% traffic views, the average person viewed an ad 3.3 times, a number significantly more accurate than previous studies could have recorded, said Bill Ketchum, exec VP-chief marketing officer.

“It’s so easy to say I just don’t believe it, and then that gets into a difficult conversation because how do you prove it?” he said. “Once we had the Nielsen data it didn’t seem to be a big issue [for clients.]”

Holograms on the catwalk

July 24, 2007

 There are a few technologies in this business that really don’t seem to be much more than gimmicks, with really short-term stopping power. The 3D stuff I have seen comes to mind.

But there is also some very cool stuff that would seem to have a ton of potential when done right.

I have been interested in the work done by a Danish company called Vizoo for the last few years. They have done some cool green-screen and projection stuff that results in shop window installations that have healthy young models trying on clothing, and drawing a crowd.

Now Vizoo is working with Diesel in the fashion industry, and coming off a rather amazing bit of work done on the catwalk in Florence, Italy.

Fascinated by their use of animated holograms in the fashion show environment, writes the blogger for Creative Review, we asked Diesel to explain how some of the technology worked.

Mysteriously, the nice guy we spoke to wouldn’t give his name, nor could he shed too much light on the unique process they used. Keeping the magic alive you see. But here’s what could tell us about how they did it…


“The visuals are projected through a series of ‘foils’ into mid air, so you see the images in mid-air. The models can then interact with them and walk through them. We used plastic foils placed at 45 degree angles so that the projected light from the ceiling goes onto a foil, is reflected on to another and then into the air.

We worked it so it had a real catwalk feel and so that you could view it from both sides: you can see the models, the holograms and the public from both sides. It’s never been used this way before as the technology has just been used in the corporate world before, for sales presentations, and the visuals have always just been viewed from one side. So we set up two rigs instead.

The animations were done with standard CGI animation software but were made for a 15m by 2.5m screen. It’s all rendered in HD, too, so was quite demanding as it’s 30 frames per second. We worked on the whole thing, from storyboard through to the final render in just two and a half months. Bringing together Dvein and Vizoo gave us this unique, truly holographic, 3D motion graphic experience.”

Pulling off this show, which I assume lasted about an hour, likely  cost many millions of dollars. So this is not the sort of thing you’re going to see installed down at the 7-11 anytime soon.

But in the same manner as the JC Decaux installations at JFK airport, a multi-million dollar investment in technology and creative can be worth it if the installation has the sort of Wow factor that immerses people and gets them talking.

The reflective film is probably far too fragile to be anywhere near the public, but I suspect good creative and retail design people could come up with some pretty amazing stuff for advertising in public spaces.  

I have, over time, grown more convinced that in big public spaces, installations of conventional LCD and plasma screens just won’t get the desired attention.

Examining the Path To Purchase

July 18, 2007

I get a few e-mail newsletters on technology and marketing by e-mail most days. One of those this morning had a piece by the managing director of Retail Advantage, a strategy consulting firm.

Al Wittemen looks at how the retail landscape has changed and suggests that it is no longer about brand identity is store, but about shopper identity.

“Maybe 20 years ago, shoppers might have gone into a store thinking about how Tide made their clothes whiter because that’s what they saw in television commercials,” he writes. “But today, as we all know, shoppers aren’t watching commercials as much, and consequently, are not thinking as much about brands and their benefits.

“To the contrary, they are thinking only about themselves – their problems, and how well the shopping experience is addressing their needs. They are driven by the pressures of time, price and lifestyle. And they are motivated by wants and needs that include health/wellness, quality and convenience, for example.”

Wittemen suggests shoppers are not necessarily engaged by the theatrics of big special events and eye-grabbing displays. What they are really looking for are “relevant solutions to their immediate needs.”

If you do things to address a shopper’s pressures or short-term needs, in a more effective way than competitve brands, then you are getting somewhere, he suggests.


Wittemen says there is a path to purchase for consumers that starts with getting them aware of a product or brand, and moves through the steps of attract, engage, motivate and then activate. At each step, there is a decision point to move them closer to a buying decision, or compelling them to move on.

This thinking should really dovetail with how networked signage operators plan their communications strategy in mid to large stores, and also factor into the thinking about content programming.

As an industry, we’re still all over the map on how we suggest digital signage should be communicating with consumers. Some people are still advocating segmented screens with news headlines and all kinds of ill-considered crap, to what end I’ll never know. Others have mercifully developed more thoughtful, seasoned approaches and do just as Wittemen suggests – communicate with consumers in a vivid and relevant manner that makes their shopping experience easier, and compels them to make buying decisions.

Worth a read

Now Linux has a Surface-like gadget

July 16, 2007

After I saw a guy at InfoComm with his own small company’s version of the Microsoft Surface, I figured it wouldn’t take long for other developers to enter the space, including those not even using Windows.

Gizmodo has piece today about a version of a multi-touch interface developed in penguin code.

MPX or Multi-Pointer X is a modification of the X Windows Server that allows multiple input devices to be used at the same time. You only need a normal computer plus any number of keyboards and mice attached to use it. The system lets multiple users interact with one or various applications simultaneously. The software is still in development and there are a ton of bugs to fix according to (developer) Peter (Hutterer). However, it will give you a good idea about what you will be able to do. 

This sort of thing will make it a lot harder for Microsfot to peddle their gadgets for $5-$10K, as it grows more mainstream – though the Aussie developer admits the early iteration has heaps of bugs and is hardly ready for any commercial application.

What I found interesting was an interview with the developer, who said all the hoo-hah right now about Surface and much more with the I-Phone interface will calm down as people sort out what’s really useful, versus what’s just kinda cool to play with for a few minutes.

“And there’s also a difference between the latest craze people go for and what they actually would want to use. Maybe the “race for multi-touch” is over in a few months and the focus has switched to something else. At this point it will be good to review what technologies we have and why they succeeded or failed.”

I think this touch interface has a ton of potential in our space if done correctly. BUT, there’s one thing that bothers me everytime I see a nice, shiny glass screen: fingerprints.